Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Tag: March

End of the Month: March to the past!

Here we are again then!

Another month has whizzed past at breakneck speed. I think we’ve all deserved a rest. Let’s hand over to the fabulous Nell Peters for a while to march through Marchs’ of the past.

Over to you Nell…

There you are – I was wondering when you’d show up!

If you fancy it (and why wouldn’t you?), grab a drink and a comfy chair and settle down with me for a few moments, while we see – intermingled with other random jottings – what has happened on 31st March in years gone by. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin – with one of those random jottings …

In 1924, two men – one American, the other British – were born, both of whom earned themselves catchy nicknames in adult life, courtesy the paths they followed. Felice Leonardo Buscaglia was born in Los Angeles, the youngest of four children of Italian immigrants. Though he spent his early childhood in Aosta, Italy, he returned to the US for his education, and graduated from high school before serving with the US Navy during World War II. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill, was a law that offered opportunities as a thank you for the service of returning World War II veterans – more commonly called GIs. Taking advantage of the legislation, Buscaglia enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he read for three degrees; a BA (1950); MA (1954) and PhD (1963), before joining the faculty.

Buscaglia – by then known as Leo – was teaching in the Department of Special Education at the university in the late 1960s when one of his female students committed suicide. Deeply affected by this tragedy, he was inspired to hold a weekly non-credit class combining psychology and sociology, entitled Love 1A – about (unsurprisingly) love and the meaning of life. There were no grades, but the class led to more formal lectures, then TV exposure and eventually a book called Love was published, based on what was shared in his classes. He became known as Dr Love, or Dr Hug, because – possibly influenced by his emotionally demonstrative Italian background – he hugged every one of his students at the end of lectures.

Leo died of a heart attack in June 1998, at his home in Glenbrook, Nevada, aged seventy-four, but had he still been around, I wonder what he would have thought about the fate this month of the founder, director and former chief executive of clothing chain, Ted Baker. After a period of suspension, Ray Kelvin was forced to resign for ‘inappropriate behaviour’, including ‘enforced hugging’. Well there you go…

Sharing Dr Hug’s date of birth that long-ago Monday was Henry Edward Cubitt, 4th Lord Ashcombe, known latterly as Mad Harry. Eton educated, he served in the RAF during WWII and thereafter became chairman of Holland, Hannen and Cubitt, the family construction firm.

He was also the London-based Consul General for Monaco from 1961 to 1968 – I rather think I’d have insisted on being Monaco-based. Between wives after his first divorce, Harry nipped over to his Barbados estate and hosted a Caribbean house party for the summer – amongst the guests (including Jackie Onassis) was his niece/goddaughter, who was invited to bring a friend. She chose her lucky flat mate, the Hon Virginia Carrington, daughter of Peter Alexander Rupert Carrington, the sixth Lord Carrington and Tory MP who was Defence Secretary from 1970 to 1974, Foreign Secretary from 1979 to 1982, chairman of GEC from 1983 to 1984, and Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988.

Harry was instantly smitten and aged forty-seven pursued twenty-five year old Virginia amongst the palm trees – they were married on New Year’s Day the following year, 1973, and it was for this folly that he became known as Mad Harry amongst family and friends. Upon her marriage, Virginia effectively became her flat mate’s step-aunt, at least while the marriage lasted (six years). You might recognise the name of said flat mate, Camilla Shand? She became Parker Bowles and is now the Duchess of Cornwall, married to Prince Charles. Mad Harry died childless aged eighty-nine in 2013, having given marriage one more unsuccessful try along the way.

Also on 31 March 1924, a strike called by London Transport personnel ended (plus ça change etc) – on the same day that Britain’s first national airline, Imperial Airways, began operations at Croydon Airport. Croydon was also known as the London Terminal Aerodrome or simply London Airport, and was emerging as the UK’s major international airport between the wars. Imperial Airways was the British Government’s cunning plan to develop connections for trade and personnel with the UK’s extensive commonwealth and overseas interests, and so it was from Croydon that in addition to European flights, long haul routes to India, Africa, the Middle and Far East, Asia, Africa and Australia (in conjunction with Qantas) were established. #3 son spends a very great deal of time on flights between Heathrow and Mumbai and Bangkok – he’s in the air for eight and thirteen hours respectively. Goodness knows how long those Imperial Airways flights would have taken – and there would be no getting it over with in one hit.

As I tap, I am also talking to aforementioned nomadic son online, while he is stuck in Kuala Lumpur airport en route for Hong Kong. Because this is a vacation and he is paying for his own flights, he opted for a cheaper non-direct route out of Bangkok – but sadly didn’t notice that the sim card in his phone wasn’t working and therefore hadn’t updated the time, a situation exacerbated by KL being a silent airport with no announcements. Ergo, he missed his connecting flight; a six hour lay-over turned into thirty and of course he had to buy another ticket – so much for economy – plus he’s lost a day of his holiday, silly Billy. In between wearing a hole in the lounge sofas, he’s eaten enough water melon to sink the Titanic, along with the iceberg, and taken five showers – for the last two he invested some Malaysian Ringgit in deodorant, as his was in his checked luggage. Rookie mistake for such a seasoned traveller, I should have thought? And I do hope it’s not an omen that last time he was in Hong Kong in September, he was stranded because of a typhoon …

March 31st 1855 was a sad day for Rev Arthur Bell Nicholls, when his wife, author Charlotte Brontë, and his unborn child died as a result of a traumatic pregnancy. And so, her father Patrick, also a clergyman, outlived his wife and all six of their children.

Charlotte’s most famous novel, initially titled Jane Eyre: An Autobiography and written under the pseudonym, Currer Bell, was immediately successful when published in 1847 – one critic described it as ‘the best novel of the season’ and people began to speculate who Currer Bell could be. However, some reviewers were more critical and described it as ‘coarse’, and even ‘anti-Christian’. It is, nonetheless, still on the shelves more than one hundred and seventy years later.

In 1849, Brontë’s second novel, Shirley, featuring eponymous heiress, Shirley Keeldar, was released. Until then, the name Shirley was generally uncommon and almost exclusively a boy’s name – in the book, Mr and Mrs Keeldar had been hoping for a son and named their daughter accordingly. But after publication, the name Shirley started to gain in popularity for girls, helped many decades later by American child actor Shirley Temple.

I have had multiple dealings with a ‘lady’ called Shirley Sergeant over the last few months – she’s not the type who would appreciate any ‘evening all/allo, allo, allo’ jokes. Shirley worked in the stone masonry department of the funeral directors who handled my dad’s arrangements in August ’17. When the year for settling of the grave was up, #2 son and I did a tour of the cemetery and picked a design we liked, then went to see about ordering something similar. Shirley pounced – we had decided upon white marble, with grey inscription, but she had other ideas. While I know that marble is a porous stone and will therefore deteriorate over the years, I don’t have a problem with the passage of time being evident – in fact, I quite like the idea. But Our Shirl insisted we’d be better off with more robust white granite. The sample she showed us was a speckled white and quite shiny/sparkly and I hated it. Ms S was not about to give in gracefully. Anxious to escape her lair before it was my turn to climb into a coffin, I agreed that she should send quotes for both, plus a CAD illustration of what our design might look like. She was kind enough to point out that although marble is white, the CAD illustration would appear grey. Face-palm. Did she think I’m as silly as I look? Don’t answer that.

The quotes didn’t arrive in a few days as promised, but three weeks later, with another sample of granite – grey (speckled with black), as white granite was no longer available. Seriously? I emailed to say the (more expensive) grey was not to my liking and we’d go with white marble – oh, and where was the CAD illustration as promised? After another month, she replied – my email had disappeared into her junk folder, she said. And so it went on. Bottom line, Shirley has now retired (yay!) and someone else is handling our order – after more than seven frustrating months, my dad’s memorial should be in place for his birthday in April. This year, I hope. Just slightly concerned that their confirmatory email referred to him as Derek P Thompson, when his name was in fact Peter Derek …

On this day in 1770, Prussian/German philosopher Immanuel Kant was made Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Königsberg. He published works on ethics, religion, law, aesthetics, astronomy, and history and more – but since I had enough of him and his Enlightenment buddies when I had to study them, we’ll leave him there, being logical and metaphysical. I believe I’ve mentioned before that another philosopher – the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy’, no less – Frenchman René Descartes, was born on the last day of March in 1596, so I won’t repeat myself. I think; therefore I am.

Hard to believe comedian, actor, writer and broadcaster, Ronald Balfour (Ronnie) Corbett died three years ago today, aged eighty-five. This was on the same day as German politician, Hans-Dietrich Gensher (born 1927); Iraqi-born English architect and academic, Zaha Hadid (born 1950); Hungarian author and Nobel Prize laureate,  Imre Kertész (born 1929) and Denise Robertson, British writer, television broadcaster and agony aunt (born 1932).

Enough now, it’s Mothering Sunday/Mother’s Day in the UK, so off you go and have a great day if you qualify. If you don’t, have a brilliant Sunday anyway and take care.

I hope to see you at the end of May, not April, as I am changing the frequency of my guest blogs for Jenny to bi-monthly, because I really need to get back to some serious writing – all the time-consuming family stuff I’ve been immersed in has meant I’ve not produced anything on the fiction front for well over two years, and I need to put that right, assuming I can still remember how!

Toodles all, and thanks Jen.



Huge thanks once again Nell!

Looking forward to “seeing” you in May

Jenny xx





End of the Month: March Madness with Nell Peters

It’s that time again! What wonders does Nell Peters have to share with us this month?

Grab that cuppa and get cosy!

Over to you Nell…

Morning all – and happy Easter Eve, on the ninetieth day of the year! I was going to say Easter Saturday, but apparently that’s the one that follows Easter Sunday. Not a lot of people know that, or maybe it’s just me. I don’t imagine too many folk will be around today, so who shall we be rude about? Perish the thought … although a few candidates spring to mind.

Anyone heard of the Bangorian Controversy? I confess I hadn’t. It all began when the Bishop of Bangor, one Benjamin Hoadly, delivered a sermon on 31st March 1717 to King George I. His focus was The Nature of the Kingdom of Christ, taken from John 18:36; ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. Hoadly’s interpretation was that there’s no justification in the scriptures for church government in any form, because Christ did not delegate His authority to any representatives. There are a few church bods who should perhaps take note? Whatever, obviously this was a pretty contentious viewpoint, hence the controversy bit – one of the main objectors being a chap called Thomas Sherlock (Dean of Chichester), whose name naturally appealed to my pathetic sense of humour.

The Bangor in question is the one in Wales, as opposed to County Down, Northern Ireland, which is why the item attracted my attention in the first place. If I had a quid for every time I’d passed through the station there, I could buy you all a slice of Welsh rarebit. This was while sons #1 and 2 were boarders at Indefatigable School, Bangor being the nearest train stop to the school’s location in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, although there is still a disused station there where tourists pose for pics in front of the sign. From Bangor it was a taxi ride over the Menai Suspension Bridge (Thomas Telford, 1826) to Anglesey and the seat of learning, housed in what used to be the Marquis of Anglesey’s sprawling estate. All very beautiful in the summer, but slightly grim during winter months. Llanfair PG (local shorthand) translates as ‘Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave’. Fancy that.

The one hundred and forty-two pupil establishment was run strictly in the naval tradition, with all boys and some staff wearing appropriate uniforms, and areas of the school referred to in nautical terms – most obviously the kitchens as the galley. All this was in homage to the original school being aboard a ship called Indefatigable, moored on the Mersey in Liverpool from 1864. In those days the ethos was to offer poor boys a home and education to equip them for a life in the Merchant Navy. Incidentally, it was on this day in 1972 that the rum ration in the Royal Canadian Navy was discontinued, and in the UK the official Beatles fan club (if I mention Yellow Submarine that’s a link to the sea-faring theme, right?) was closed – just thought I’d toss in those facts for good measure.

Where was I, ah yes – dry land Indefatigable sleeping quarters were called dorms (as opposed to cabins or similar) and there was a nocturnal fire in Raleigh House during #1’s residence. Try as he might, the Housemaster couldn’t rouse the boy as flames licked around ancient timbers, and ended up physically dragging him from his bunk (no hammocks!) Miraculously, no one was hurt and damage was contained. Said heroic Housemaster, Chris Holliday, was Head of English; he is now retired and enjoying a comparatively stress-free life in northern France with his dog, Einstein – we chat every now and again on FB. Chris and I that is, Einstein being more into Snapchat.

With grounds stretching down to the shores of the Menai Strait (Afon Menai), water sports and seamanship skills featured strongly in the curriculum, along with more mundane academic subjects. While #1 did well, became deputy head boy and left with a slew of impressive results en route for uni, #2 decided to buck the system and rebel. His biggest claim to fame – definitely one of his less bright ideas – was to lead a bid for freedom at the dead of night. Picture several thirteen year-old boys on foot traipsing down narrow, largely unlit, winding country lanes and over the bridge to Bangor, in a haphazard crocodile formation; those tiny roads are scary enough driving in daylight! When the intrepid ones reached Boots’ car park, inspiration deserted them and eventually a member of the public alerted the school – presumably, one of the lads was daft enough to wear part of the school uniform for ease of identification. The Great Escape that never was; I think I prefer the Steve McQueen version.

Coincidentally, some years before the sons’ time at the school, Super Blogger Anne Williams was studying at Bangor Grammar School for Girls, whose pupils used to be invited to Indefatigable school discos to trip the light fantastic with the older boys. What a weeny world this is, forsooth. The school is now occupied by the MoD, after it closed unexpectedly during the summer of the year we moved from London to Norfolk – and so after hasty negotiations, #2 went from being a pupil living several hour’s travel and hundreds of miles away from his school, to literally being over the road.

#3 was home for ten days at the beginning of March, catching up with his boss at the company’s UK base, as he does every now and again. He flew out of Bangkok in temperatures of 34 degrees C and landed at Heathrow early next morning in -1C and snow – nine minutes early after a thirteen hour flight.

Not too shabby, although he was with Thai Air and it was a dry flight because of Buddhist’s Day – something he learned to his horror only when he checked in and went off in search of his customary pre-flight pint of Guinness. From Heathrow, he then had a three hour drive back to Norfolk in scary conditions. The same day, a friend’s son flew from Germany to Heathrow en route for Edinburgh and his stag do. Alas, the guys were all stranded in London. Seriously? Air Canada pilots regularly land on six feet of solid ice!

While home, #3 did the usual rounds of brothers, plus nieces and nephews in his capacity as everyone’s favourite uncle – he spoils them rotten and lets them get away with murder. #4 had moved house since his big brother was last home and so received much gratis advice on interior redecoration; I didn’t notice anything as practical or exhausting as a paintbrush being wielded, though.

11th March was Mother’s Day in the UK and as has become a tradition, #4 arranged (for want of a better word!) my flowers in a lime green plastic jug thingy from Ikea, that the OH bought many years ago because he thought I’d like the shape. Shape is OK – hate the colour. When #4 was thirteen, he got his first pay packet from his paper round the day before MD, raided Tesco on his way home and put the flowers he’d bought into the Ikea jug. It was the first thing he saw as he charged through the kitchen en route for his room – where the flowers remained overnight, with his window wide open so they remained fresh. As if this house isn’t cold enough!

Our nomad (he’s getting far too much publicity in this blog!) flew back to Bangkok on 11/3, leaving at crazy o’clock in the morning. So, my celebration actually stretched from Friday night dinner, through Saturday lunch and on into Sunday, with various sons and their families appearing whenever they could, combining MD with saying adios to their brother. It was a brilliant weekend! Because he isn’t home for Easter (holiday in Sri Lanka, if you please!) I have had to warn him that the bunny may not have enough petrol in the Eggmobile to deliver his chocs. However, the annual Easter Egg Hunt will take place here, the Grands searching for spoils in what GD #2 refers to as ‘the dark forest’ – in reality a rather more mundane area of perhaps fifteen tall trees.

The Grand National has been run several times on 31st March, starting in 1905 (the 67th race) when it was won by Frank Mason riding Kirkland. The 116th race in 1962 was won by Fred Winter on Kilmore; 127th by Brian Fletcher on Red Rum in 1973; 133rd by Maurice Barnes on Rubstic in 1979, and in 1984 the 138th race was won by Neale Doughty on Hallo Dandy. Since 1839 the Grand National – a National Hunt horse race – has been run annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, with the exception of war years 1916-18 and 1941-45, when the land was requisitioned for military use.

It is a handicap steeplechase run over 6.907 km with horses jumping 30 fences over two laps and is the most valuable jump race in Europe, with a prize fund of £1 million in 2017 – note to self: learn how to ride a horse, although at 5’9” I may be a little tall to be a jockey.

I know nothing about horse racing, but even I’ve heard of Red Rum (and Shergar, who disappeared in February, 1983!), the horse that holds the record number of Grand National wins – in 1973, 1974 and 1977, coming second in 1975 and 1976. Plus for sixteen years he held the record for completing the course in the fastest time of 9 minutes and 1.9 seconds. The race is notoriously difficult and has been described as ‘the ultimate test of a horse’s courage’, but Red Rum’s jumping prowess was legendary; not one tumble in a hundred races. He was retired before the 1978 National after suffering a hairline fracture the day before the race.

However, he had already become a national celebrity, opening supermarkets and leading the Grand National parade for many years. He even switched on the Blackpool Illuminations in 1977 – no mean feat with cumbersome hooves, I imagine.

When the horse died on 18 October 1995 (aged 30) it was announced in the national press and he was subsequently buried at the Aintree winning post, with an epitaph that reads, ‘Respect this place / this hallowed ground / a legend here / his rest has found / his feet would fly / our spirits soar / he earned our love for evermore’.

Multi award winning actor and Scot, Ewan McGregor celebrates his forty-seventh birthday today, although it may be a slightly subdued affair since he filed for divorce earlier this year after twenty-two years of marriage and four daughters, only to be unceremoniously dumped by his new love interest. Hey-ho. His film, TV and theatre credits are impressive, including Trainspotting, The Ghost Writer and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, plus later versions of Star Wars, to name very few. His maternal uncle, Denis Lawson appeared in the original Star Wars. McGregor is heavily involved in charity work, including UNICEF, visiting some of their projects during the motor bike documentaries he made with mate Charley Boorman.

Another actor born today is American Gabriel (Gabe) Kaplan – he’s seventy-three. In Montreal, I remember watching him in an American TV series called Welcome Back Kotter – he played the eponymous role of Gabe (no chance of forgetting his character’s name) Kotter, a teacher who returned to his alma mater in New York to teach a remedial class of loafers, called Sweathogs. As a member of the original group of Sweathogs, Kotter befriended the current bunch and over time got his unruly pupils to realise their potential. The Sweathogs’ unofficial leader was Vinnie Barbarino, a cocky Italian-American, fan of Star Trek and resident heartthrob of the group. The part was played by one John Travolta (pre Saturday Night Fever and Grease etc), who was in real life a high school dropout.

Our third and final thespian birthday is another American, Rhea Perlman, who is seventy. She is separated from husband Danny DeVito with whom she has two daughters and a son. At 5’0” she’d probably stand more chance than me of riding in the Grand National – and DDV is even shorter, although a tad overweight. Perlman’s career began off-Broadway in tiny parts until her first notable TV (recurring) part as Zena, the girlfriend of Louie De Palma (played by DeVito), in Taxi. But her most memorable role has to be that of wisecracking Carla Tortelli, waitress in a sitcom set in ex-baseball player Sam Malone’s Boston bar. And that’s my last word on the subject – Cheers!

Thanks for having me, Jen – not too many Easter eggs, now.




Huge thanks Nell- as ever. 

As if I’d eat too many eggs….wipes chocolate from chin…

Happy reading,

Jenny x


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